Thursday, May 6, 2010

The rioting Greeks

It finally started to rain around shortly after noon. It had been dark and gloomy ever since the morning, which seemed to fit my mood; I tried to busy myself going off to find a place to exchange my left over Albanian Lek and Serbian Dinars. I got 7.40 Euro for my efforts - the night before I spent 35 Euro for my taxi back from the airport and a second night at my hostel here in Thessaloniki. Net loss. And why was I back at my hostel in Thessaloniki (instead of on a beach in Haifa)? Well, because the airport is closed - the whole country is on strike. I posted this on twitter two days ago, while somewhere in the middle of Serbia, upon learning that the Greek trains were on strike:

Q: How would Greek financial crisis affect the trip?
A: Trains on strike, getting from Macedonian border to Thessaloniki TBD at the moment!

So, I was wrong. The trains weren't a problem, it was the airport that got me.

This brings up an interesting question - what's worse, spontaneous riots on the streets of Kathmandu over raised fuel prices in the impoverished country of Nepal, or well organized strikes and demonstrations in Greece? Sure, sure Nepal still loses - they were throwing bricks at us, but at least the Kathmandu airport (guarded by UN peacekeepers) remained open throughout. Here, nobody wanted to bother me, but the airport was participating in the strike, and, voila, I was stuck. And getting stuck upset me far more. (Or is that the Kathmandu was over two years ago, and I've just moved on? Hmmm...) After all Tommy went off into the riotous crowds back in Kathmandu to get some pictures and [to our astonishment] returned unharmed, describing the rioters as rather friendly...

I was supposed to be in Israel by now, having left Thessaloniki on a flight to Tel Aviv at 11:30PM last night. It was by the time that my last pre-strike bus of the evening got me to the airport that I began to realize that there may be a problem - the terminal seemed deserted; I found a display, and, of course, all the flights are canceled today... The tower workers were taking part in the nation-wide strike! Til midnight. My flight's at 11:30, think they just pushed it back by 31 minutes? Nope, I'm now ticketed to go on the same flight 24 hours later (calling the airline for a strike update before leaving for the airport tonight).

And what exactly might we be striking about, you may be wondering? Well, it's probably been in the news back home - the Greek government has this tiny, little insignificant financial ... catastrophe. They've got some loan payments due, don't have any money to pay them, and nobody will lend them more money because, well, you apparently can't ask a sovereign state for their first-born as collateral. So the rest of the Euro-zone countries, along with the IMF, are providing a 110 billion Euro loan package (at 5 percent). It's not real popular back in Germany, France, etc. either, but it's apparently even less popular here. Because, believe it or not, those other EU countries and the IMF have insisted on some guarantees that Greece will be able to cut its national deficit over the next few years and, you know, repay the 110 billion Euros via some 'austerity measures.' And now we're protesting... and striking... and my flight is canceled because the airport is closed, and unlike the train service, they wouldn't just provide a bus to Tel Aviv instead. And I totally saw amphibious tourist buses in Budapest...

The demonstrators marching through the center of Thessaloniki

Contrasting them to the rioters in Kathmandu - the Nepalese have really got the riot thing down better

I met up with Jimi here in Thessaloniki - Jimi, the Greek mini enthusiast, who spent half a day working on mine back during the rally after we run into him in the middle of Serres, and is far more responsible for the mini getting anywhere near Mongolia than any of the other [many] mechanics along the way

The waterfront in Thessaloniki - before I got pissed off about being stuck here, I went for a little sight-seeing

it's just called 'The White Tower'

And this is the Rotunda of St. George. Sits just outside of my hostel

Jesus keeps suffering inside the Rotunda

And yet roses bloom outside of it, ignorant of his suffering...

Well, back to the strike - is it all just a scam by the Greek government to help stimulate the economy? After all, school's out today (teachers on strike) and all the kids are hanging out at the street side cafes all day long, playing cards and backgammon and drinking coffee... The adults seem to be enjoying a day of shopping as well. On the other hand, the post office down the street from me had all of its windows smashed, and this in relatively calm Thessaloniki - three people were being reported dead in Athens... It's a good thing Californians only riot over police brutality (or Lakers championships), not when Schwarzenegger cuts a bunch of their state benefits to try and balance that state's budget...

No comments: